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Electoral reforms in India: For a stronger democracy

Free and fair elections form the basis of a healthy democracy and India must adopt all the widely discussed and acceptable electoral reforms at the earliest to strengthen its democratic foundations.

By Anubhav Srivastava

May 20, 2009

The scandals and controversies that marked the 14th Lok Sabha and the recent events after the general elections in India were announced, where smaller and regional parties have held bigger parties to ransom over various issues like that of seat-sharing, have once again highlighted the urgent need of electoral reforms in India. Some of the recommendations given below have been widely discussed in various forums and have found acceptability among various policy-making organisations including the Election Commission of India. It is high time that they are implemented in the earnest. 

  • Abolish the first-past-the-post system: This has been amongst the most widely discussed electoral reforms in India. Multi-cornered contests have become a norm in India rather than an exception due to the increase in the number of smaller and regional parties. There have been cases in the state assembly elections where a candidate has been declared winner with the victory margin of less than 100 votes. Apart from this anomaly, in most cases, a candidate wins the election by securing just 30-35 per cent of the total number of votes polled. Hence he or she cannot be deemed to be a choice of majority of the electorate. To overcome this limitation, the first-past-the-post system should be replaced with a two-stage electoral process. In this, a second round of election will be held if none of the candidates in the fray is able to get 50 per cent of the total number of votes polled in the first round. The two candidates who have obtained the maximum number of votes in the first round will fight in the second round. Whoever between the two gets more than 51 per cent of the total votes polled in the second round is declared the winner.
  • Simultaneous elections for Union and state legislatures: Currently 3-4 states in India go for elections every year. This undermines the working of the union government as the regime in power cannot take tough decisions due to the fear of a backlash in the next round of assembly election. Hence simultaneous elections will not only ensure that governments at the centre and the states carry out their responsibilities in a smooth manner but also curtail unnecessary election expenditure. The arrangement of simultaneous elections can be extended to the elections for the municipal corporations and other Panchayati Raj institutions.   
  • Fixed tenure of elected legislative bodies with no-confidence motion followed by a confidence motion: This is another move that will curtail the unnecessary election expenditure and at the same time ensure stable governments at the centre and in the states. In case none of the parties or coalition is able to form a government on its own, the members of the house should together elect an executive head among themselves and form a cabinet that has representation from members of all political parties on the basis of the number of seats they have secured in the elections.    
  • Decrease number of registered parties: This move is necessary because the smaller parties are far more vulnerable to “ideological shifts” and in this era of fractured mandates, hold the bigger parties to ransom for their narrow political gains. The election commission should be given powers to de-recognise smaller political parties on the basis of their performance. Another move to achieve this goal would be to increase the minimum number of primary members that are needed to form a political party. 
  • Increase the amount of security deposit: This move is necessary to put a check on the number of non-serious candidates contesting union and state assembly elections. Such a move has been taken in the past and has shown desired results. However in recent times, the number of candidates fighting elections has shown an increasing trend and hence there is a need to review the amount of security deposit. 
  • Not allowing candidates to contest from more than one constituency in an election: This is necessary to curtail the unnecessary expenditure that election commission has to make when a candidate contests election from more than one constituency and wins from all the constituencies he has contested from. The bye-election that is necessitated by the candidate choosing one seat and vacating others seats he has contested from will no longer be needed.  
  • Use of common electoral rolls in the union and state elections: This move will put a check on the cases of people finding their names missing in the electoral rolls. This happens because different lists are prepared by the Election Commission of India for general elections and the state election commissions for the elections of the state assemblies and local bodies. The effort and expenditure that is involved in making two lists for similar purpose will be greatly reduced. 
  • Making false declarations in election affidavits an offence: This is necessary to ensure transparency about the profile of candidates contesting elections, many of whom have criminal cases going on against them on charges of heinous offence like kidnapping and murder. Anyone giving false information in the affidavits should be debarred from contesting elections for a minimum duration of five years. 
  • Allowing negative/neutral voting: This will allow a voter to express his dissent by rejecting all the candidates contesting in his constituency if he finds none or them suitable to be elected. Currently a large number of people do not go to the polling booth because of their disenchantment with the candidates put up by the political parties. This is reflected in the falling poll percentages. Democracy in India will be strengthened if people participate in large numbers in the electoral process and have a choice to reject all the candidates instead of being forced to select one who they think is less bad than the others in the fray. 
  • Ban on publication of exit/opinion polls results till voting is over for all phases: To ensure free and fair elections in India, the election commission holds them in different phases so that the available security staff is effectively deployed. Publishing the result of opinion poll on the earlier phases will have an impact on the voting pattern in the subsequent phases. Similarly, the opinion polls that are conducted before the election also influences the voting pattern. Hence there is a need to put a ban on the publication of the results of the exit/opinion polls conducted by various media agencies till all the phases of elections are over.
The Author is Editor, Policy Proposals For India. 

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